Sunday, January 31, 2010

Why Do We Need Meaning?

A few days ago I was listening to a podcast of a theological debate between a Calvinist and a Christian of a different persuasion which I did not catch.  In the end it was pointless so I won't harm the world by linking to it.  However, there was an interesting exchange that got me thinking about the human desire for meaning.

The two men used a theoretical event where a fictional man rapes and murders a small girl.  Both of them were explaining their view of God's nature by suggesting how God might have allowed this to happen for the greater good of the world.

Why?  Why do we suppose that God is some sort of utilitarian?  Why do we presuppose some sort of cosmic justice or karma surrounds every negative that befalls us?  As if good and evil were like double entry accounting where everything zeroes out in the end.

When I say, "we", I need to exclude myself.  For whatever reason it is a phenomenon that I do not identify with at all.  This is not to brag, but I do not ever recall having gotten angry at God.  Never have I struggled with the lack of meaning in events.  I don't know if I'm missing a gene or if I simply never began to believe that God needed to justify the world that he created and we altered.

Even the greatly reveered Christian author C.S. Lewis struggles through anger and doubt towards God upon the death of his wife.  I've been reading his "A Grief Observed".

This is not a criticism of anyone.  Where did this idea come from?  Why do we believe this?


Sunday, January 24, 2010

Raw Political Power

Several days ago I endorsed Debra Medina for Governor of Texas.  I also exercised my enormous political clout and shot an e-mail over to Robert Wenzel, blogger of EconomicPolicyJournal extolling her virtues.  He gets about a thousand times as many hits as I do every day, and he told me he would keep an eye on her campaign.  Lo and behold, he links to an article on her today extolling her virtues.

Now that I'm drunk on power, I'll have to start ordering you little people around.  Someone get me some coffee!

Friday, January 22, 2010

Alien in the Gaps Fallacy

Those in the intelligent design camp propose there are proofs that God exists in nature. An example being the irreducible complexity in the anatomy of the eye or bacterial flagella. The common retort to these claims is to cite the God of the Gaps fallacy.
The God of the Gaps fallacy can be defined as - a tendency to postulate acts of God to explain phenomena for which science has yet to give a satisfactory account.

This intelligent design line of thinking is, of course, a rather weak position. As soon as a scientific explanation is able to find an answer, the argument dies an embarrassing death. If one’s faith is built on one of these, it could be shattered in an instant. I’m not a microbiologist, so there may yet be a reason to be confident, but from a spectator’s viewpoint it seems rather tenuous.

The age old claim against God is the lack of evidence. Most people have some sort of mystical experiences, but these aren’t reproducible as required by science.

What shocked me, though, was the end of Ben Stein’s Expelled. When questioned by Mr. Stein, noted atheist scholar, Richard Dawkins, said that he thought it was possible that life had been brought to earth from another planet. This is the same person who believes that a belief in God is completely irrational.

I am agnostic on the subject of aliens, but his line of thinking seems a bit preposterous. We have been to the moon, we have been to Mars. We thought we found life on Mars, but we didn’t. We photographed the planets and their moons, and no visible life has been found. We have sundry instruments listening for rays and waves coming from outer space in hopes that there might be life on other planets. Yet, nothing. Absolutely nothing. The universe is deafeningly silent.

There is no evidence, yet many intelligent people assert that there is a probability. Surely, in all the universe, with billions of stars and planets, life exists somewhere else. Yet we haven’t seen a thing.

Even with this utter lack of evidence, Dawkins believes that it is a possibility that a race of super intelligent aliens, that we have never seen, nor have any evidence, went flying through the universe 5 billion years ago and dropped off some bacteria that evolved into us. Really? This is rational, but a supernatural being is not? We have barely scraped the universe which is why we haven’t found alien life, but by the same limited measure we can with certainty exclude a God. Really?

I dub this the Alien in the Gaps fallacy.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Debra Medina for Governor of Texas

I have been a fan of my Texas Governor Rick Perry for a long time.  I have voted for him every time, and do not regret any of those votes.  In this coming primary election, I was planning to vote for him again, because Kay Bailey Hutchison has never impressed me beyond having a likeable personality.

However, I looked up Debra Medina, a lesser known candidate, last night after seeing a Rasmussen poll giving her 12%.  I looked at the Issues tab on her website and swooned.  She quotes Frederick Bastiat!  Beyond the self apparent awesomeness of that, it means she reads real books.

In her bio I find that she was a leader in the Ron Paul for President campaign in Texas, and she was also one of those early home school rebels.  That means she's got chutzpah (that means "cajones" to you English speakers).

I'm down with Debra Medina.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Tonight's Gonna Be a Good Night

"I got a feelin'.  That tonight's gonna be a big big night." -- Black Eyed Peas

I predicted on my facebook page Sunday that Scott Brown would win against Martha Coakley by 7 points in the Senate Race in Massachusetts.  With more polling data coming out on Monday showing Brown up by 9 or 10 points, I am pretty confident that Brown's margin of victory will be large.

As many of you are well aware this could mean the death of Obamacare.  Brown has pledged that he will join a Republican filibuster against that bill when it comes out of the reconciliation committee.

However, libertarian economist Bob Murphy had this to say in the comments at EPJ.

I don't mean to be a party pooper, but I would caution everyone about getting real excited for Republicans to step up to the plate and defend our liberties.  I still cringe when I remember staying up late election night 2000 because I was so so worried that that "socialist Al Gore" would wreck the US economy...

I respectfully disagree, but not because I have faith in Republican leaders.  The incentives for Congressmen to spend money and expand government are still there, so they won't change that much.  However, what can change is the ideological mix of the country.

History is written in simple narratives, and this election tonight will be part of that narrative.  President Obama is a symbol.  He is big government writ large.  He is Keynesianism writ large.  He is elitist arrogance.  We don't need him to be defeated and humiliated as a person, but we need it as a symbol.  We need this brand of soft-socialism to become a punchline; a mythology of errors so engrained in our collective consciousness that economic intervention will be conflated with disaster.

The White House has already decided what their strategy will be after defeat.  According to Politico:

President Barack Obama plans a combative response if, as White House aides fear, Democrats lose Tuesday’s special Senate election in Massachusetts, close advisers say.

He's doubling down.  Like Pharoah after the plagues he plans to be even more provocative.

Did the Hebrews in Egypt recognize the importance of symbolism and historical narratives?

Exodus 9:13 Then the LORD said to Moses, "Get up early in the morning, confront Pharaoh and say to him, 'This is what the LORD, the God of the Hebrews, says: Let my people go, so that they may worship me, 14 or this time I will send the full force of my plagues against you and against your officials and your people, so you may know that there is no one like me in all the earth. 15 For by now I could have stretched out my hand and struck you and your people with a plague that would have wiped you off the earth. 16 But I have raised you up for this very purpose, that I might show you my power and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.

Not to put word's in God's mouth or assume he has an opinion on this election, but if we value freedom for ourselves and for our fellow Americans, we should be giddy about a likely victory tonight.  Never in my lifetime has an opportunity for big government to be so thoroughly disgraced as it is right now.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The Mystical Mind

We all have a certain lack of self-knowledge. We experience ephemeral emotions and events that we can not repeat, can not define, and can not fully grasp. There is a hole in our minds, and we all know it. We can’t put a label on it, but it’s there. Something is missing. Something is supposed to be there.

I recently listened to a podcast entitled “What Can Science Tell Us About God”. My flippant response is “nothing”, but I don’t hold that against theism, it’s more a condemnation of science.

Apologetics315 describes the podcast as:

Lewis Wolpert (Emeritus Professor of Biology, University College London) says there is no evidence for God whatsoever and religion finds its origin in tool-making. Russell Cowburn (professor of nano-technology, Imperial College London) is a scientist defending the Christian position.

Prof. Wolpert, the atheist, makes a comment at the 13:14 mark:

I want to tell you, you all, myself included, have a mystical aspect to our minds. We all have it. All people have it.

I’ve taken this a bit out of context so don’t think that he is admitted anything supernatural (he is actually arguing the opposite; that evolution created this aspect).

This got me thinking about the human experience. The lives we live inside of our minds and body are not well defined. Slowly, over the course of our lives we come to understand how the soup of chemicals effect us. What is joy? What is angst? We struggle at times to wrap our logic around the incoherence of our emotions.

My grandma died a few months ago and it was really the first time I had ever experienced loss. I was never terribly attached to our pets or to other family members who passed away. I empathized with others experiencing loss, but I had never felt it myself. I was surprised how vivid memories would sadden me abruptly weeks afterwards (even now as I write this I feel it again). Even with this recent experience I couldn’t think of anything to write in a condolence card today for someone I used to work with. It was his grandmother too, but I didn’t know what to say, and I hate being the 9th person to write, “Sorry for your loss.”

Science can tell me nothing about this. I can not sit and experiment with my emotions until I’ve codified every nuance. I can’t apply logic to feelings that have never occurred before. The gaps in my self-knowledge are immense. Why do I chew on pens? Why am I compulsive about some things and lax about others? What is the purpose of my life?

There is a great deal that I will never know, nor can ever know about myself. There is a great gulf in my mind. A great sea of the unknown.  Something is supposed to be there.

Where is this God, you ask? He's right there.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Status and Depression

Arnold Kling at EconLog posted this article recently written by two evolutionary psychologists.  Many years ago I was really excited by evolutionary psychology, but I've slowly soured on it.  Nonetheless, the article is really interesting.  A snippet:

depression is an adaptive response to losing rank and conceiving of oneself as a loser. The adaptive function of the depression, according to rank theory, is to facilitate losing and to promote accommodation to the fact that one has lost. In other words, the depressive state evolved to promote the acceptance of the subordinate role...


an internal inhibitory process comes into operation which causes the individual to cease competing and reduce his level of aspiration. This inhibitory process is involuntary and results in the loss of energy, depressed mood, sleep disturbance, poor appetite, retarded movements, and loss of confidence which are typical characteristics of depression.

This linkage between low status and depression got me thinking about some of the Christian ethos of humility.  Are Christians susceptible to depression by avoiding status symbols, personal glory and power?  Or is there some other route that supplants these losses with something more?  (The last sentence not just being a rhetoric statement, it really is a question in my mind.)  When I read Paul, he seems to be overflowing with passion, which clearly does not fit under "loss of energy...loss of confidence".  There is something he has tapped in to, but explicitly grasping and defining that is eluding me at the moment